Prague says no help for now for ethnic Czechs in Ukraine

Ethnic Czechs in Malinovka, Ukraine, photo: Czech Television

The Czech government is not planning to provide any special assistance to the Czech community in Ukraine. The decision comes after around 40 families with Czech roots from the Volhynia region asked to be relocated to their old country due to the turmoil in Ukraine. But the Czech government believes they face no immediate threat.

Ethnic Czechs in Malinovka,  Ukraine,  photo: Czech Television
The government’s decision is based on a report compiled in the area in question over the weekend. The Czech embassy in Kiev sent envoys to the city of Zhytomyr, some 120 kilometres west of the capital, to find out whether ethnic Czechs in the area faced any security threats. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek told a news conference no such risks had been determined.

“The report suggests there is no security threat to the locals. We can rule out that members of the Czech community would be targeted by their Ukrainian compatriots. That’s something they themselves denied, and said they lived in a friendly environment. It seems their interest in coming back is economically and socially motivated.”

Last week, around 40 families with Czech roots from the Zhytomyr district approached the Czech government for help, claiming they no longer felt safe. The head of their local association, Ema Snidevych, even made a brief trip to Prague to make the argument in person.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: CTK
She told Czech officials many ethnic Czechs, who in the past joined the ousted president Yanukovich’s party, felt threatened; she argued crime in the area was rampant because of a reduced police presence, and that families feared their men would be drafted into the Ukrainian military should an armed conflict with Russia break out.

Foreign Minister Zaorálek said the government is in no way underestimating the situation, and will keep monitoring developments. But the findings of the Kiev embassy suggest that Czechs in Zhytomyr were safe for the time being.

“The security situation in the region has not substantially deteriorated. The conditions the Czechs are living in are not different from those under which their Ukrainian neighbours live.”

Mr Zaorálek also said Czech expats in Ukraine and elsewhere could apply for fast-track permanent residency permits, and move to the Czech Republic on their own.

There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 ethnic Czechs living in parts of Ukraine; besides Zhytomyr and Volhynia, they are also based in the east of the country and in Crimea. But no requests for help have come from the other areas, according to Interior Minister Milan Chovanec. He told reporters no dramatic increase in visa applications was registered in recent weeks.

“We have not seen any increase in the number of visa applications from ethnic Czechs in Ukraine or from Ukrainians. In the first week of March, we received some 1,400 applications, and we issued just over 890 visas. That in fact represents a slight decrease compared to the previous week.”

Milan Chovanec,  photo: Czech Television
In Ukraine, however, many were disappointed by the Czech government’s decision. Ms Snidevych questioned the report’s accuracy, and said embassy officials only spent 90 minutes in the area. She also told the news website on Tuesday that the local Czech community was not giving up, and was planning to send another petition to Prague.